The Lund Student singers provide a male voice choir for this recording of fine quality, with robust attack and good intonation. Their publicity states: `Lund Student Singers, LSS, was founded in 1831 and is one of the oldest choirs in Sweden. Despite its long history, the choir has maintained its vitality over the years thanks to a combination of professional and dedicated choral directors and invigorating turnover of singers - a typical feature of a university-based choir. Today the choir counts about 50 active singers.' On this Naxos recording there is a wide stereo spread, the choir is quite forward but the balance between orchestra and choir is very well judged so that vocal parts and details of orchestration are clearly audible. The impressive sound is immediately apparent in Sibelius's stirring cantata that tells a story of nationalist fervour in which a young Finnish hero rescues a beautiful queen from a lifeless castle and brings her out into freedom and light - `And now, mother you are free! Come to the daylight...' - where the joyful throng greet her and a new future. Noble brass and expressive woodwind solos accompany the choir's committed rendition in full-hearted music typical of Sibelius's nationalist style.
Bruckner's "Helgoland" and Grieg's "Landkjenning" are similarly uplifting, with a nationalistic element to their language, but dealing with events at sea. The orchestra and choir attack "Helgoland" with considerable vitality, though they avoid the jauntiness of Barenboim's Chicago performanceSymphony No 0/Psalm 150 (Cso), giving a stronger impression of the crisis facing the Saxon residents of the island as the Romans approach. They don't match the image of black terror that comes in Wyn Morris's famous recording with the Ambrosian Chorus and the Symphonica of London (available from Klassic Haus restorations) - but Morris's tempi are very slow and his performance is inclined to drag in the slower sections. Come the salvation of the Helgolanders and their praise to God, the heroism of the Ambrosian Chorus is put to the test - and a white-knuckle ride it is - but the recording hardly does justice to Bruckner's orchestration and ensemble is a bit shaky. Barenboim's Chicago performance (more characterful throughout than his later Berlin Philharmonic remake) finally catches the requisite noble religious fervour in the closing bars. The Malmö Opera Orchestra and Lund Student Singers give a very creditable account of the cantata, the tenors heartfelt as they address their pleas for help to God, and the closing pages benefit from a recording in which trumpet fanfares, almost inaudible on the Symphonica of London recording, give triumphant embellishment to the heavenward aspiration of the climbing brass theme. Stirring stuff indeed.
The heavy brass are particularly good on this recording and you hear them to good effect in the Grieg piece and Wagner's "Feast of Pentecost". But the Wagner performance excludes the opening long 'a cappella' section, giving just the accompanied finale to the piece where, to a libretto written by Wagner himself, the apostles receive the spirit and stride out to convert the world for ever and ever. It's a piece of early Wagner and probably not capable of being performed with utmost conviction.
There are two soloists, Mikael Stenback, tenor, and Daniel Hellström,baritone, and both are excellent. Stenback sings with warmth and passion on Debussy's early Invocation (1883) "Sing during my final hours: Love, there is no darkness, no loneliness when you are here!" (trans. Susannah Howe), and Hellström is similarly strong as the Norwegian king Olaf Trygvason who dedicates the newly sighted wild landscape to God.
The still heart of the selection in the programme presented on this recording is occupied by Richard Strauss's evocation of the `shimmering haze' and `deep blue sultriness' of an afternoon in the mountains, composed in 1927 at the time of "Die ägyptische Helena". Attractive though the performance is, neither orchestra or choir seem quite relaxed and untroubled enough. A contrast to the late-Romantic orchestration of all the other pieces is the subtle autumnal orchestration of Schubert's "Song of the Spirits over the Waters", accompanied merely by five string players, violas, cellos and a double-bass. The Lund Singers and strings from the Malmö Opera orchestra give a finely nuanced performance, though it perhaps lacks the degree or eloquence that some other ensembles achieve, such as Det Norske Solistkor on Bis.Im Herbst: Choral Works By Brahms/ Schubert (BIS BISSACD1869)
The choruses are sung in their original languages. The CD insert booklet provides sketchy notes about the works, but no words. These have to be downloaded from the Naxos web-site where they are provided with good translations. In sum, this is a fine disc of unusual repertoire, in which the more stirring `nationalistic' items, to my ears, receive more convincing performances that the more introverted pieces.
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